Ukraine says 70 soldiers killed as Russian convoy heads for Kiev

•Says we’re laying foundation for industrial revolution at Lee Engineering

As the global community, especially 

Europe struggles with the challenges posed by the war between Russia and Ukraine, some economic experts have said African nations with a strategic industrialization drive are poised to actualize their dream.

However, the provision of infrastructure remains pivotal to facilitate the concept.

In Nigeria, government and private sector seem to be working towards closing the infrastructural gap.

Driven by the conviction that the much-needed industrial revolution must be anchored on the provision of necessary infrastructure, some indigenous entrepreneurs have committed themselves to pioneering various spectrums of such development.

The Lee Engineering Group, founded by Dr. Leemon Ikpea, is one of those championing this noble quest for Nigeria’s industrialization. But the unique selling point of the company is the belief that transformation only takes place by active participation. So, instead of being merely a marketing agent selling European products for quick returns, it has chosen to manufacture the products.

The company has committed resources to the establishment of a steel products fabrication factory located in Warri, Delta State. Interestingly, the factory is set for commissioning this year.

However, not much is known about the face behind the strategic transition of both the technological know-how and skill acquisition bid to sustain the initiative.

The move towards pioneering local fabrication of industrial tools and equipment in the oil and gas industry dates back to 2009 when Ikpea incorporated Lee International Services, S.r.L, Italy, and appointed Dr. Dott Giuseppe Paone a former lecturer at the University of Milan (Italy) as Area Manager, Business Development, Procurement, Project Management, Europe and Africa.

Lee International Services S.r.L. was incorporated in March 2009 as Lee Engineering & Construction Co Ltd subsidiary with the prime aim to provide international services, training and technology development transfer, high skilled manpower provision, engineering designs, project management and international consultancies.

Thus, the choice of Paone, who has been passionate about business management in the Oil & Gas Industry since 2006 could amount to putting a round peg in a round hole.

Ground assessment

Briefing newsmen in Warri, Paone who was on a ground assessment visit, said the fabrication factory would contribute enormously to the industrial transformation of Nigeria.

According to him, “the first impact will be on employment. The second will be on the economy itself because, instead of importing from foreign countries, Nigeria will become more independent. Those who will produce the spare parts needed for petrochemicals and refineries will be available at workshops in Nigeria, just as we have here at Lee Engineering. These parts could have been sourced somewhere else outside of Nigeria. You only import raw materials and produce the needed parts here. That increases the wealth of the nation.”

Relating the present situation to the industrial development experience of his home country, Italy, he said, “In the early 60s, Italy (after the Second World War), Italy was destroyed.  

“I read in the books and my grandfather also used to tell me that Italy became like today’s Ukraine – destroyed. 

“The U.S came with funds and we started rebuilding. The development was rapid in the 60s. We started industrialization from carbon steel, stainless steel, and petrochemicals. “Today, what I see now in Nigeria is the same. You are experiencing the Italian 60s. So you are developing so much because, from 2011, you have been the leading economy in Africa.

“Nigeria is the 5th largest exporter of crude oil globally. It is the biggest economy in Africa. The first country In Africa in terms of development in Ghana, but the country is small. Nigeria is far bigger. So you are progressing so much, with many middle-class citizens here. “When I came here, I noticed a lot of factories. The middle-class requests moderate houses, and also a lot of services.”

Fabrication 

Paone said the Warri fabrication workshop was established by Ikpea, said the aim was to complement the company’s activities in the oil and gas industry. 

According to him, most of the machines and tools used in setting up the factory were bought from Italian suppliers. 

Emphasizing the critical role the factory would play in the nation’s quest for industrial development, Paone said although the goal is to produce pressure vessels and heat exchangers meant for low, mid to high pressure for use in the industry, the same machine fabricates other industrial tools and equipment using carbon or stainless steel as material.

“Talking about stainless steel, I will give you an example. In the food industry, we need to transport things like milk, beer, and beverages with trucks. You will notice that behind the trucks, there are tools and caps. So we built the machines that can enable these tanks to be used for the transportation of beverages. 

“We are not focusing only on oil and gas. Why do we want to do this? We know, from industry experience in Europe, that in developing countries like Nigeria, those goods are consumed by the middle class. So the demand for these goods will increase. Their needs will also increase. We want to be leaders in their supply.”

Manpower

To ensure the perfect and smooth running of the factory, Paone said Lee Engineering is committed to training local manpower. In this regard, he said over 30 people have been sent out for training in Italy.

He, however, regretted the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that personnel trained could not deploy their skills immediately. Paone said Italian partners have continued to send personnel to Nigeria regularly to refresh the trainees’ memories.

Stressing the need for retraining, he said: “When people are trained, they start working. And for this phase, we may organize and supervise the beginning because the startup is the most delicate for the company. The beginning will be supervised by people who have done that for decades, who know exactly what to be avoided, what should be done, and what not to be done for safety reasons. After this supervision, the workshop will become, day by day, more independent and better in terms of production.”

Commissioning

According to Paone, Lee Engineering Fabrication Factory is set to commence a test run this month.

Speaking on what the process entails, he explained: “Commissioning activities involve properly installing and fine-tuning machines. If there are instruments like flow meters and others, you will check that they are balanced and are working because the water condition here is different. 

“At the end of the commissioning, you make a startup. It’s like buying a vehicle, you turn it on. If it goes on well, it means that all the preparatory activities for the startup were successful. For the vehicle or car, you will check to be sure that everything is in order before you start. The startup is the moment when the key to the machine is being delivered to Lee Engineering because it is in perfect working condition. Processes may be different from machine to machine, but the aim is simply to make the machine work.”

Funding

Paone is not ignorant of the role of funds in the actualization of a huge project like this. This explains why he commended Ikpea for sponsoring the factory but noted that government could fast-track industrial revolution by facilitating access to multinational development funds.

“We invest so much in this project as a company. Of course, at the moment, all the funding comes from Dr. Leemon Ikpea, the Chairman/CEO of Lee Engineering.

“But, since we are aware there is the possibility to get funds from the UN and related agencies or the World Bank, we are working towards that. I am booking appointments with some people to know whether they can provide funds – not in the form of loans, but with the understanding that we are contributing to the development of the Nigerian economy. That is a common thing to do.”

Meanwhile, findings revealed that Nigerian entrepreneurs may find it difficult to tap into pools of funds offered by multilateral sources due to the absence of representatives on the board of such organisation.

“That, for me, isn’t a good one. It shows that government is not taking advantage of the opportunities available for entrepreneurial and industrial development from such a space,’’ a source told Sunday Vanguard.

Meanwhile, Paone has urged Nigeria to take advantage of the situation in Europe to fast-track its industrial development.

According to him, ‘’the market conditions, presently, are the best. With the recent decline in energy supply caused by the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war in Europe, all the policies over there are currently being changed in a bid to help source gas. Europe presently has a good relationship with Nigeria, and I believe this presents a very good opportunity for Nigeria to take advantage of the shortfall. I mean right now – not next year but now.” 

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.